Mother Mother by Annie Macmanus
It’s always a relief when a well-known person in the media writes a book, and it’s good. Former Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac, who left the station earlier this year, has done just that – her debut is assured, straddling that line between commercial and literary fiction. Macmanus is Dublin born, but studied at Queen’s, Belfast and it’s in the NI capital that she sets her novel.
Told in a dual time-line, we begin in the ‘present’, where in the prologue, Mary is visiting a grave in the cemetery. Then staying in the present, seventeen-year-old TJ McConnell wakes up one morning to find his mother disappeared. Mary is nowhere to be found and he wonders where she’s gone, she’s not answering her phone.
We go back to 1990, when Mary was nine. She lived with her older brother Sean, who she is very close to, and their father who drowns his sorrows in drink. Mary has to be mother at home. Their mammy had died when she was little. Jumping four years, we meet Mary and her best friend Louise, these days Sean is always off with his mates rather than going to and from school with his sister. A few chapters and a couple of years on, we discover how TJ arrived as the result of her first sexual experience, which wasn’t exactly consensual, after a school event.
The day before she went missing, Mary and TJ had had an argument. Not only does Mary not approve of TJ’s friend Alden, who supplies him drugs, but TJ said he wanted to go to New York when he finished school to search for his father. Mary had always told him his dad had gone there. He hopes it wasn’t the argument that has driven her away.
Mary, a promising student, having elected to keep her baby, is forced into a very different life to the one she imagined. She looks after her father, worries about Sean, who is descending into violence and drug addiction, and brings up TJ while working in a garden centre part-time. Sometime later it’s 2003 and she finds a better-paid job as part of the grounds team at Bedwood cemetery, where her mother is buried, where elderly gardener Sid takes her under his wing.
Now Mary would be near her mother all the time. She knew what to say when her father’s face clouded over at the realisation of where she would be every day.
I’ll be able to make sure her plot is nice and near, Daddy.
And she meant it.
Macmanus combines TJ’s coming of age story, in which he finally finds out about his father, with Mary’s ongoing grief and mental torment as she loses more of those around her and her fear of losing TJ too. As is common in dual time-line novels, the past is written in the past tense, and the present in the present, and that works well. Although the plot covers nothing new, she executes it well with the right amount of drama, two main characters whom the reader immediately has sympathy for and a satisfying ending. An assured and very readable debut.
Source: Review copy. Wildfire hardback, May 21, 352 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.